04 October 2009
Alan Paton: TOO LATE THE PHALAROPE
Before I start to tell you about how much I loved this book, I'd like to spend a little while discussing something completely inconsequential. In the early 1960s, the publishing house Charles Scribner's Sons issued a series of trade paperbacks under the banner of "The Scribner Library." Featured authors included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, C.P. Snow, Edith Wharton, Thomas Wolfe, and Alan Paton. Both the Paton novels I've read--Cry, the Beloved Country on a trip to Pittsburgh with my father during my senior year of high school, and now this one, Too Late the Phalarope--have been Scribner Library editions, and this might be one reason why I like Paton so much: because these editions are, without a doubt, my favorite-looking books. I don't really know why (you can judge for yourself, the image at the left looks exactly like the copy I read), but there it is. I don't think that's the only reason, however, because Paton is also one hell of a writer. I don't exactly remember, but I'm pretty sure I cried whilst reading Cry, the Beloved Country, and I almost did as I was finishing Phalarope. It's the story of one man and his family's destruction. The man is Pieter van Vlaanderen, a South African police lieutenant, rugby star and all-around great guy, making his destruction all the more sad yet all more inevitable. Narrated by his aunt, this novel has all the tragedy of, well, a classic tragedy. It's A+ literature if I've ever read it, and possibly even capable of ousting Graham Greene's The End of the Affair as the best literary depiction of human guilt I've ever read. Read it, please read it. Or something by Paton. And if you absolutely refuse to, at least look at it and tell me you like it's attractive design.